When Sascha Ring, Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary, also known as Moderat, speak about themselves they try to emphasize that they’re just three guys making music. Unfortunately, when you’re three guys that are some of the most influential in the Berlin electronic music scene, your past achievements tend to come up often. Bronsert and Szary are the duo behind Modeselektor and the Monkeytown and 50 Weapons labels, enlisting a large cadre of musicians to help further their bass-driven sound through features as well as releases on their labels. Ring releases music under the name Apparat and helped to found the Shitkatapult label but generally drifts towards the more ambient and moody side of electronic music on his LPs. Don’t let that fool you though, anyone who’s watched an Apparat Boilerroom set or listened to his DJ-Kicks record can attest to the fact that the man in the loose fitting t-shirt with curly hair knows beats.
Having initially met in 2002 at a festival for emerging artists, the trio bonded over a shared love of MIDI controllers. Their initial efforts at collaboration had to be shelved after some disagreements about how they would work together. They even named a later EP “Auf Kosten der Gesundheit” (At the Cost of Health) so it follows that maybe it wasn’t a wonderful process. For some reason or another, the three stuck with it and almost seven years later, they released their self-titled debut album, “Moderat.” The album garnered praise from many circles but often times sounded exactly what one might expect from two separate artists, a simple mix of their two opposing styles. The gritty bass of Modeselektor and the warm chords of Apparat wove in and out, with neither ever really fully taking hold. Ring sometimes did vocal duty, but there were a surprising number of guest features (just like a Modeselektor album) including Delle from the German reggae group Seeed. Despite what they emphasized, “Moderat” didn’t feel like just three guys making music, it felt like an amalgamation of styles that sometimes didn’t fit as well as you’d think.
The trio of Berliners released their second album, “II,” last week on Mute/Monkeytown and on first listen, it’s evident something has changed. There’s no more tug of war between a Modeselektor sound or Apparat sound, but simply a Moderat sound. A large part of that had to do with their recording process, which Bronsert revealed to Drowned in Sound had comprised less of trying to develop older, unfinished tracks for their separate ventures and instead writing new material from scratch. Along with their shared opinion about the physical sound of the record, the three were also armed with a better understanding of themselves after touring the world for two and a half years. Instead of two separate creative entities, Moderat had become one. Albeit one with considerably less free time, as Szary and Bronsert have both become fathers since the last album.
Looking at the tracklist for “II”, the lack of guest features is something that immediately stands out. Whether or not it was a conscious decision or simply a byproduct of their rekindled approach to production, the absence of outside vocals truly lets Ring’s voice shine. Lead single “Bad Kingdom” sees Ring taking the reins in a similar fashion to “Rusty Nails” from the previous album. “Damage Done” also relies heavily on Ring’s vocal treatment but also displays Moderat’s knack for a song’s arch. Building and building, the song eventually drowns in guitar haze by the close. Another consequence of their unified production technique is a willingness to branch out to acoustically uncharted territory. “Gita” sees the trio experimenting with vocals and time signatures in a way that might draw comparisons to Mount Kimbie while “Versions” draws heavily from elements of two-step. Sometimes the results can be a bit stranger, like on “Ilona” where vocal samples and 140 BPM make for something that sounds a bit like Oakenfold.
Despite the complex mixture of styles, the album itself comes off as more cohesive than the last. Whereas their previous album wandered and never really settled, “II” wanders with purpose. Instead of sounding like a journey to find the perfect middle ground between Modeselektor or Apparat, “II” finally just sounds like three guys in the studio, Sascha, Gernot and Sebastian, making music.
Moderat’s II is available now on Monkeytown/Mute.